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Posted on Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje: 'We're starting to get that critical mass of people living downtown'

By Ryan J. Stanton


As downtown Ann Arbor continues to grow and city officials try to strike a balance between new development and open space, Mayor John Hieftje says he and other city officials have been eyeing the Palio Lot at the corner of Main and William as a potential location for a new public plaza. "I think there's some potential on the Palio Lot, and I've been walking around with a couple of council members and we're beginning to think about a little line of park plazas. You've got Liberty Plaza, you'll have one on top of the parking structure, and then you can have one over at the Palio Lot, or a different configuration."

Ryan J. Stanton |

With hundreds of new apartments bringing literally thousands of new bedrooms to downtown Ann Arbor, there are more people than ever living the downtown experience.

Housing options downtown now range from single-family historic homes to modern condos, renovated lofts and the latest trend — high-rises geared toward University of Michigan students.

According to the Downtown Development Authority's first-ever "State of Downtown Ann Arbor" report, the downtown population grew by 30 percent during the past decade. At the time of the report last year, there were an estimated 1,200 businesses and 4,167 residents downtown.


John Hieftje

The population count is based on the 2010 U.S. Census, which showed a surge in demand for downtown living. There were 2,261 households, a 32 percent increase from 2000.

"Over the past decade, more than 456 housing units have been constructed with a range of target tenants in mind," the report states. "Currently, 274 rental units are under construction and expected to become available in the coming year. With rents ranging from $700 to $4,300/month and the average residential unit at $264/square foot, the options for downtown living are ever-expanding."

The housing boom hasn't stopped since that report came out. More and more developments are coming across the desks of the city's planners. But what does it mean for Ann Arbor?

Mayor John Hieftje, who left behind a career in real estate when he first was elected more than a decade ago, offered his thoughts in a recent interview with The city is in the midst of a development boom, and a lot of that is housing within the downtown area. We just saw two more 14-story high-rise apartment buildings proposed for downtown in the last week. What's your take on what's happening?

Hieftje: I'm a little surprised, because if I were an investor I probably would not be investing in more student housing downtown. I would want to make sure that the market has a little time to absorb what's been built. But I think we're going to see more and more people that are beyond their student years who want to live in downtown Ann Arbor, and it's an interesting phenomenon.

In order to thrive, downtowns need more residents, and you need residents to put people in the seats at the Michigan Theater to keep it alive and keep it going. You need residents if you want to keep some of your small shops. We've lost some of our smaller shops. But I think as we begin to have more people living downtown, that can only help. The people who come to downtown on Friday and Saturday nights — that's not enough. You need more people working downtown and you need people living downtown, and we're starting to get that critical mass of people living downtown.


The first tenants recently moved in to the new 14-story Zaragon West high-rise at the corner of Thompson and William in downtown Ann Arbor. Geared toward University of Michigan students, the project brought about 200 more beds to the downtown. Rents range from $1,175 to $1,650 per bed per month.

Ryan J. Stanton | The city established a Downtown Residential Task Force in 2003 that looked at the issue and set goals of adding 1,000 new housing units in the downtown by 2015 and 2,500 total by 2030. What's your assessment of the progress on meeting those goals?

Hieftje: It seems to me like we have met those goals. And when you look at some of the housing going up, obviously it's for students and it's providing new bedrooms. People say, 'Well, what if there's too many?' Sometimes I hear, 'Well, what if these places go bankrupt?' And one of the things to point out is most of the major buildings in downtown Ann Arbor, when they were first built, a few years later they went bankrupt, and the second owners did well when they came in. But the city is always going to receive its tax dollars and those buildings have all been revived. I can't imagine a time when we're going to have buildings for very long sitting empty in downtown Ann Arbor. I know one of your hopes is that as more students move out of near-downtown neighborhoods, those student rental houses will convert back to single-family residences. What proof are you seeing to indicate that's happening or going to happen?

Hieftje: When I was a kid growing up in Ann Arbor, working people lived in the downtown apartments, working people lived in the near-downtown neighborhoods. But as the university grew, the working people displaced. And for the people who work in downtown shops, I think there's an opportunity to move back in and rent, and I think there's an opportunity for young families to re-colonize some of those neighborhoods, and that's been one of the goals from the very beginning.

As students have moved out of the near-downtown neighborhoods, like off of Hill Street and off of State, obviously they're coming from somewhere, so they've freed up some other housing for other people and hopefully working families to move into and that's really exciting.

I was at a neighborhood meeting last year in North Burns Park and one of the folks stood up and said 'the steamroller has been stopped.' There was a time when every house that came up on the market in the neighborhoods along Hill and State, and many of the other areas over by the athletic campus, they were immediately snapped up by investors, they were turned into student housing. And now that's turned around and we're starting anecdotally to hear about evidence of families coming in and fixing up student rentals. That's how I got my first house. Actually my first three were really fixer-uppers, and that's how people get a stake in Ann Arbor and can start their lives here. I've noticed some of these older student rental houses in neighborhoods that ring the downtown are priced at $500,000, $600,000 or more. Do you think it's realistic for families to come in and pay that much for houses that could require significant renovation work?

Hieftje: You're correct. Some of those rental houses are really expensive. The bigger ones particularly. But there will be some around the edges where they begin to be reclaimed. I can think of some smaller houses in the Burns Park neighborhood that it'll be great they're not going to turn into student rentals and families can be there. So we've turned a corner. What's your long-term vision for Ann Arbor? How much taller and denser is downtown going to get? How many more residents do you think we'll actually add?


Hieftje says he doesn't think streets like Main Street downtown will ever lose their charm because of historic district protections.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Hieftje: People worry we might lose our charm as a city. But I don't think any of those new buildings going up are going to detract from the charm to a great extent. We have design guidelines in place now, so hopefully they're better-looking buildings. But you have to recognize, too, that quite a bit of downtown Ann Arbor is protected. It's either U of M property that has some beautiful old buildings on it that we all love to see, and there's also the historic districts.

Main Street is never going to change very much. State Street is never going to change very much. Quite a bit of Liberty is never going to change very much. The same is true on parts of Washington and parts of William.

That's really important to me. I grew up in Ann Arbor and, not that I want to return to the 1950s and '60s or '70s, but I want it to continue to have its charm in a modern way. What is the likely outcome of the Connecting William Street initiative? How quickly might we see the five properties the city owns downtown developed?

Hieftje: We're seeing some pretty good land values in the downtown area, and I've felt for years that the city's investment in the property at William and Fifth, which is across the street from the library and next to the transit station, is going to eventually come back and the city's investment will be made good on that. At least I hope so. So I think we should move forward and sell that property and pay off the real estate debt. I'd like to see that happen. And then beyond that, I don't think anyone is in a hurry to do any development with the city properties. But this will give us a base. They're doing a whole lot of work in trying to solicit public comment and get the opinion of the downtown merchants. What role does the city have to play in development outside the core downtown? Glen Ann and Lower Town come to mind. What can be done there?

Hieftje: Glen Ann is a tough one because we had the development proposed that didn't happen. I thought it was a great idea. It was actually housing for working people up at the medical center, and hopefully somebody's going to come in and revive that. There's limited control the city has over that with private property. The Lower Town development — the failed Broadway Village — I think there's a lot of potential there. One of the things that is so exciting about that to me is, if you had a very viable train station with trains running 100 mph on rebuilt track with brand-new cars connecting people with just about anywhere, that becomes a very good opportunity for transit-oriented development.

The old Broadway Village site is a great opportunity for residential development in the city. You could have condos there, you could have apartments there, some retail. It doesn't have to be any sort of a grandiose scheme. Just housing that is very nice for people that is very close to transit and everything having to do with the university and North Campus and places where people work. I hope that we'll begin to hear some proposals about that sometime soon. It's important to strike a balance between open space and development. What are our real opportunities for open space in the downtown?

Hieftje: The Library Lot has always been planned to have a park plaza there. There was no big push for a conference center or anything like that. I think some folks have overemphasized that. I personally don't think there's enough business to keep a conference center viable in downtown Ann Arbor and we had to look into that when it came up, but that proposal is long gone. But the infrastructure that was built into the parking structure was generic to support a building. It's also an area where the trees that are growing there are in six-foot-deep pots. You're not going to have trees there that are of any size at all. So it's not a great place for anything more than a park plaza.

But we're going to redevelop Liberty Plaza and the planning effort on that is really getting started. And I've got my eye on the Palio Lot. I think there's some potential on the Palio Lot, and I've been walking around with a couple of council members and we're beginning to think about a little line of park plazas. You've got Liberty Plaza, you'll have one on top of the parking structure, and then you can have one over at the Palio Lot, or a different configuration. You know, the big parking lot down at the base of the hill on William — it's determined that someday will be a park when there's an environmental cleanup.


Hieftje sits with Council Member Sabra Briere on a recent afternoon in Liberty Plaza, a sunken concrete park at the corner of Liberty and Division in downtown Ann Arbor. They're investigating options for a redesign of the park to make it more active.

Ryan J. Stanton |

You're going to have a park at 415 W. Washington someday. The city is moving pretty actively to create a park over on North Main, although it's outside of the downtown area. Some people want to deny that the Diag is a big green park in downtown Ann Arbor, but certainly it is. And there's another one over on Washington, and then there's the great big area with a giant fountain where we hold the Summer Festival. Just outside of downtown, you've got West Park. There's also the MichCon site where you're pursuing a new riverfront park for the city. Are you going to make the case that the gain of riverfront parkland there is an appropriate tradeoff for the possible loss of roadside parkland — albeit a surface parking lot — on Fuller Road, if the city moves forward with building a train station there?

Hieftje: Even though the site on Fuller Road has been a parking lot for almost 20 years, technically that's part of the parks system, and under the federal rules that I've seen there would need to be mitigation. So they may say that's fine that a train station go here, but we'll have to mitigate and create a new park somewhere else. Well, we're actively creating new parks on North Main, and certainly when that's all cleaned up, what's going to be a beautiful piece of land along the Huron River there right across from the Cascades. So that's exciting to me. The city has three properties it wants to see become part of a greenway. 415 W. Washington and 721 N. Main have gotten the most attention. What's the latest on those?

Hieftje: We're moving forward with the preliminary work to put in a request for a Natural Resources Trust Fund grant for the 721 N. Main property. Now county parks has expressed a desire to participate in the matching money there because it's right across the street from making a connection to the Border-to-Border Trail. We've got the North Main Task Force at work, talking about that whole area, but also how to integrate 721 N. Main into the parks system and how to make a connection over to the Border-to-Border Trail and everything that is going on over there across the river. With some of the recurring flooding issues on the city's southwest side, the city has been criticized for poor development decisions of the past. What is the city doing today to ensure that smarter growth is happening? That neighborhoods aren't being built in the historic alignment of creeks and in floodplains and floodways so on?

Hieftje: I've been looking at some maps lately that show there were some neighborhoods and some particular houses built on top of old stream beds back in the '50s, '60s, '70s. But one of the things that has changed is development standards. We have very stiff development standards. Every new development has to contain its own stormwater. There's been a lot of progress in building codes and in development standards. I think particularly in the downtown, most anything that goes up down there is containing all of its stormwater onsite for slow release, so those types of things are in place.

The city is going to continue to battle these issues. I think if you went back to the 1800s, Ann Arbor was a very swampy place. And a lot of that water was put underground, swamps were drained, but when you get the major storm events, that water wants to go back to its old pathways. And so I think there were some mistakes made decades ago, but hopefully we're not making them now. The city admittedly hasn't made a lot of progress on increasing affordable housing. It actually lost 100 units after it purchased the old YMCA and demolished it. What are the opportunities for affordable housing in the near-term and what might we see downtown?

Hieftje: Affordable housing is a tough issue obviously. We did lose the units. That was pretty much unavoidable. But those were pretty much like cells. Those were very narrow little cubicles, bathrooms down the hall, really no cooking facilities, kind of miserable. Nowadays the standard would be you would need to build efficiencies to replace that — a very expensive proposition, particularly in the downtown. But we have been making some progress. I think there's been something like 68 units of supportive housing that have been built since the time that the 100 cubicles were lost.


155 more housing units with nearly 200 beds are on their way to the west edge of downtown with the construction of Ann Arbor City Apartments, which includes four floors of public and private parking and seven floors of apartments. It's one of several apartment projects in downtown Ann Arbor that are either under way, already built or in the planning stages.

Ryan J. Stanton |

It's not as fast as we'd like to see. But again, we're talking about a period during the worst recession in recent history. I think we have to cut ourselves maybe a little slack on that.

But no one has taken their eye off the affordable housing ball. We're continuing to pursue those things. I think there need to be some decisions made: Affordable housing for whom? Most of the affordable housing that's done is for people at the vey lowest income. Do we want to think more about some affordable housing for working people so they can afford to live in Ann Arbor? You championed the Greenbelt, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2003. How does that play into the long-term discussion about development in Ann Arbor?

Hieftje: The Greenbelt has been successful in preserving land outside of the city. We're going to have viable farmland around Ann Arbor forever is what it looks like. And that was something I talked about back in 2003 that people weren't as tuned into as they are now: local food, the whole idea that maybe it's not going to be viable to ship food in from South America and California — as much as we do today — 10, 15, 20, 30 years from now. Local agriculture is a movement that is sweeping the country. That's going to be important for food security that we have that type of land available forever around Ann Arbor, because there'll be another cycle of sprawl. There will be another cycle where the countryside is built up, but we've got some protection there.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


say it plain

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 12:12 a.m.

I think given the other story about how the vaunted new luxury tower got sold days after opening, it should be that "...we're starting to get a mass of critical people downtown" lol!, if you can't tell us how many of the new downtown residents are students, can you at least tell us what percent of new residents are living in these portfolio properties whose owners are buying and selling them for stockholders? All the same sorts of hideous or generic structures, all engineered to be marketed for maximum return before they're sold to the next player, each one hoping he's not the last one holding the bag?

Michael Christie

Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.

What I would have asked the Mayor is so out of all the new housing downtown, what's the mix between students and professionals. If I were to guess it would be 90% students and 10% professionals. Adding students to the mix won' keep this town afloat, with bargain food and lousy tippers. I can't believe people aren't looking at Boulder, CO for answers. I know Boulder has 310 days of sun a year and is set in the flatirons, but it also has a mix of students and professionals. More professionals downtown, dining, shopping, etc...That's what makes a city/town flourish and will add more $$ to local economies. Certainly not some student looking to get a under $8.00 meal and leave some $.75 tip. This Mayor has to go.


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 10:10 p.m.

What Boulder has is rich residents and white privilege...and million dollar townhouses downtown. I guess it's true that we have a more thriving downtown if we fill it with millionaires.


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 3:53 a.m.

what farm land? any quality farms?/


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.



Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 3:44 a.m.

historic homes are being turn down to make way for this problem.


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 3:43 a.m.

uh... genius didn't see it coming? haha.. dont walk on the train track with your head down!

Roger Kuhlman

Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 3:41 a.m.

I don't think we should be encouraging more people to live either in downtown Ann Arbor or in exurban Ann Arbor ie in the countryside. Population growth in either place is not good and harms our natural environment. If we are ecologically responsible, we should be looking for ways to stop population growth and expanded development. Less population and less consumption and less use of natural resources are outcomes we should wholeheartedly welcome.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 11:41 p.m.

I keep waiting for developers in Manhattan to build a condo overlooking Central Park that I can afford. And I don't want some cracker box or room mates either - who do they think they are?! You're a good example of what's wrong with this country today. Do you really the business community owes you affordable housing where YOU want to live? LOL What if your budget determines where you live? Is that fair or is having neighbors that make a hundred grand a year more than you important to you? Is Ypsilanti or Detroit not good enough? Or if you really want to live in Ann Arbor, how about getting a second job at the car wash or cleaning the apartments of your neighbors once a week?

Middle America

Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 4:45 a.m.

Who are you addressing? Click "Reply" next to a post to reply to a post.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 9:40 p.m.

I've been looking for someplace in downtown or at least close to downtown for about a year and can't find a thing that is even remotely affordable. I'm not a student so I'm not getting a check from mom and dad every month or living off student loans. I make OK money, but there is just nothing even remotely affordable for a working person. I keep hoping one of these new developments will put in something that is more in line with providing decent, affordable housing to working people, but so far I've been disappointed. I was hopeful for the place over on Ashley I believe, but from the descriptions they are going to build cracker jack size apartments and then create larger common areas. Sorry, that's a dorm. I don't want to live in a dorm; been there, done that. Maybe the place that is being proposed where the Papa John's is/was will be a bit more realistic, but that close to campus it's probably going to end up being another student high rise with 6 bedroom apartments; I don't need six bedrooms and I certainly don't want 5 roommates, again, been there, done that.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

The Mayor is correct and both he and AA government over the last decade deserve great credit for recognizing that urban development is very much in the City's best interest. The alternatives are bleak, as many less healthy, less agile Cities have discovered far too late as they slowly starve. Optimistically, activity down town can lead to even better next steps, such as light rail transit connecting population spots from north to south, including to bus, regional rapid rail and wider passenger train services. That is a leadership challenge that make take the next generation to accomplish…though admittedly they have not shown us so far. The next generation must also dump the leftist baggage Council and Planning Commissions have dragged along year after year. Repeal the absurd "market rate housing" requirement – there is plenty of housing available for the poor in Ypsilanti and Detroit. Dump the embarrassing Green Way plan – the notion that "the animals" need a fluffy path thwue the middle of AA is so moronic that I don't know how anyone can discuss it with a straight face.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 7:17 p.m.

A good interview on the thinking by the mayor. I like living downtown and mainly need my car only for grocery shopping. Nice that CVS is now on State Street. Maybe with more density downtown, a grocery will appear. As Jane Jacobs said so long ago, residents downtown makes for a vibrant (and safe) environment. Think what life is like in most parts of New York City.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 11:31 p.m.

Don't forget People's Food Co-Op! I live downtown and do almost all of my grocery shopping there. No need to drive out of downtown for groceries.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 11:07 p.m.

I live downtown and do most of my food shopping at Kerrytown quite nicely. Certainly it contains the best butcher in town and his prices are low.

Steven Taylor

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 10:03 p.m.

A2. had a grocery downtown at one point... It was called "White Market" But it closed in August after the landlord priced him out.

Steven Taylor

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 7:05 p.m.

It's been a while since I've been in College, but the apartments at the Zaragon West (seen in an image in above article) state that rents are 1100 to 1600 dollars per bed.. I seriously hope those aren't considered affordable, certainly not for limited budget students. Or does financial Aide cover housing in a unit like this? Hell, when I heard about the new apartments built off University by Pinball Petes that the cheapest apartment is 1400 dollars and doesn't include parking (save for the 2K per year spaces under the building, or maybe the structure across the street. None of this strikes me as 'affordable' but me, I'm just a blue collar business owner from the other side of US-23 so what do I know.

C'est la vie

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 6:41 p.m.

For years I would have loved to live downtown, but could not afford the high rent for a small place in a dilapidated old house in the student ghettos. Now I am still shut out by the even higher rent in the high rises. Ironic that only the extremes of the populace CAN live downtown -- either the well off or those on skid row. The mayor doesn't seem to see that living downtown isn't an option for many middle class folks. I can never understand the talk about a need for (subsidized) "affordable housing" downtown. What about just plain old housing that is affordable to the average Working Joe or Jane who's not on public assistance? Wouldn't those be they type of residents we'd like to have downtown?

pooh bear

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 6:14 p.m.

I predict the mayor will go down in history as "high rise- Hieftje."

Wolf's Bane

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 10:10 p.m.

Ad short-sighted to the list.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

The Palio lot may be better used by erecting a reasonably supermarket with pharmacy to serve the low income persons who live downtown. These services always seem to be neglected by planners who think only of residential space but not the potential residents themselves. What services still exist near downtown are overpriced and disappearing rapidly. Just because Ann arbor has acceptable bus service does not mean that low income residents can just bus themselves to shopping areas for a limited [whatever they can carry in bags] amount of groceries. City planners and elected officials appear to conveniently overlook this factor in their downtown plans.


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 2:22 a.m.

Dan - San Diego did just this, setting aside a full block downtown from an underground municipal parking lot and a supermarket. The prices are reasonable and if you shop in the market and stay less than 1 hour, you parking is free.

glenn thompson

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 5 p.m.

" . . I think there were some mistakes made decades ago, but hopefully we're not making them now." What about the current plan to pave an acre of Vet's Park for a skatepark? This is the head water region of the Allen Creek. This is where storm water should be detained before it increases flooding downstream. It seems we are just repeating the past mistakes.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

Another Liberty Plaza may not be the best approach until the idea receives the careful consideration it deserves. Gathering places like this are a double-edged sword, as we have seen. They can help or hurt an area.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:57 p.m.

"The Library Lot has always been planned to have a park plaza there. There was no big push for a conference center or anything like that." Uh, really? Didn't we spend $15 million or so extra JUST to make this thing able to support a large building on top? So that was purposefully wasted money? A "just in case" scenario? Pretty expensive one. Kind of like your "just in case" train station; you want to build a new one just in case people will want to use it., I'm a little surprised there was no follow-up on this question. You DID know they paid a lot extra SPECIFICALLY to enable building atop this thing, right? It's funny that he cites the trains as an invigorating factor in lower town; there's been a train station there for decades, right? The whole Lower Town project (which Granholm ceremoniously dug a shovelfull out of with the golden shovel; hilarious) would have gone like gangbusters if only the trains were faster, right? Make these trains go 100mph, and all of our ills will be cured, right? Looking forward to another millage on that. Residents should make a point to walk down East Huron, past the new Justice Center, on down to Main. That whole stretch is ghetto looking; cracked sidewalks, broken grates around dying sidewalk trees, and weeds grouing along sidewalk. Just wonderful. Maybe we need a train station on Huron.

say it plain

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 4:25 p.m.

AMAZING that there was no follow-up on that statement lol... It barely misses being an all-out lie... It's only that he says "...never a big push..." for a conference center that stops one from straight out calling bs, because of course his definition of 'big push' might be different from ours... and it's only because one can potentially parse "...plan for a plaza there..." to include a little lane of trees and benches between the hotel and the conference center or condos or whatever he thought would get sold for on top of the fortified hole-in-the-ground he borrowed $50 million for that this other clause isn't a straight-out lie as well...

Mike D.

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.

Thanks for the thoughtful piece on this. A facet of this I don't see discussed explicitly is the interplay between downtown density, sustainability, and extra-urban green space. As more people live and work downtown, their energy use goes down dramatically, and the potential for locally sourced food increases. The Mayor is ahead of the curve here and Ann Arbor is setting a trend for small urban centers in the Midwest. That said, I do wish we had far stricter rules on aesthetics and building material standards. That monstrosity on Huron between Ashley and First never should have been allowed, and the "upscale" developments going up (411, Zaragons, Landmark, etc.) all will look like trash in 20 years because of their cheap building materials and contempo-mediocre design. We must set far stricter building standards that will ensure a dense, vibrant, attractive city for decades to come.


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 11:37 a.m.

That said, I do wish we had far stricter rules on aesthetics and building material standards. That monstrosity on Huron between Ashley and First never should have been allowed, and the "upscale" developments going up (411, Zaragons, Landmark, etc.) all will look like trash in 20 years ... Seriously? You'd trust the city government with setting standards for *aesthetics*!? The new city hall looks awful right now when new (and, judging by the old, generally-loathed old city hall half-hidden behind it, the addition will look even worse as it ages). Would you really like more of this: Private developers won't build aggressively ugly buildings because they have to attract paying tenants. The city, on the other hand, seems too have little trouble building structures that solid majorities can't stand. How about $800K more for another one of these:


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 2:20 a.m.

Mike D - Look at the local food energy study. The results are interesting about which food actually uses less energy to grow and deliver.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

As a longtime downtown resident I welcome more people living here. But the main focus of those in power should be how we are living here and to sustain the trend rather than create situations that may lead to a reversal of that trend. There are major aesthetic issues that have to be addressed, because too many of the buildings going up or being proposed are being built in a cheap and ugly manner that will make Ann Arbor look like any other ugly modern city. With high rents we will see more and more chains, and that will also contribute to the anonymous character of what was once a distinctive town. We also have to think about where people will park. I am all for parks, but if we turn all surface car areas into parks, things will get tight. We really need council to think more about how Ann Arbor will look like in the future, make plans, and encourage developers to use more imaginative architects. Right now we are creating a blight for the eyes.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

The Mayor stated that "There was no big push for a conference center or anything like that." Apparently, He convenient forgot about the Valiant Partners proposal for a 12 story 150-room luxury hotel and 32,000 square foot conference center that was seriously being considered to sit on top of the super expensive subterranean library parking structure built specifically to support a 12 story hotel. Josie Parker, the library director, strongly supported the Valiant Partners proposal because the library would have access to meeting space in the hotel and conference center. In fact the $65 million library bond proposal (of which $52 million will build the new library) will provide enough financing to build the Valiant Partners hotel and conference center. Josie Parker's vision of the future Ann Arbor District Library appears to be that of a large community center for meetings and other gatherings. Certainly the library should not need that amount of money to just increase its size by fifty percent, from 110,000 square feet to 160,000 square feet, as apparently is the plan. However, no artist rendition or architectural drawing of a new library has been done and no description of new or expanded activities and resources have been listed. As for building more affordable house, the Ann Arbor Public Housing Commission (AAPHC) can not properly manage its present 355 units in 18 locations and must struggle to find finances for $14 million of required repairs over the next ten years. Until the AAPHC literally "gets its houses in order" no commitment should be made to increase affordable housing units. In fact, the most desirable resolution for dealing with deteriorated housing is to sell off the units and terminate its affordable housing activities.

say it plain

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:32 p.m.

Could tell us how many of the new downtown residents are UM undergraduates and graduate students?

Jamie Pitts

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

It is great to see that Mayor Hieftje is concerned about balancing the rapid development that is happening downtown, and that he is making an effort to make sure that it happens. While I see a lot of spin going on here, I also see a lot of consideration for all of the complex factors involved, from downtown all the way out to the farms. "I've been walking around with a couple of council members and we're beginning to think about a little line of park plazas" My wife and I did a bit of walking around ourselves the other day, and we're wondering about an integrated walking experience downtown. I would encourage everyone in Ann Arbor to actively do the same. One walk is particularly instructive. Start at the corner of Liberty and S. Division. Then try to walk to the library diagonally through Liberty's sunken concrete "Plaza". After finally making it through the ridiculously bad sunken park and Spark, you'll quickly see that an opportunity was lost with the construction of that library parking lot. By building it utilitarian, it presumed a use by only cars and car owners. By building in the support for a much larger building, it presumed a future use that may not be in the public interest. Your stroll will end some day smack into the back of a giant building instead of this library mini-plaza envisioned by Mayor Hieftje. That curved mouth of a parking lot entrance is also straight out of an Eraserhead streetscape, perhaps a manifestation of the planning mindset that brought us the original COBO Center. It completely blocks the diagonal flow from Liberty "Plaza". But it could be fixed, with a pleasant, covered pedestrian bridge, which highlights why there needs to be more thought put into, ahem, $50M++ construction projects. But I am just an enthusiastic observer. Thankfully, Mayor Hieftje is considerate for the future residents of downtown. We need all leaders involved in the planning process to think way ahead and not have to pay others to

Mary Hathaway

Tue, Oct 2, 2012 : 6:06 p.m.

These are valuable observations. I wish we could read to the end. Clearly, as Mr. Pitts describes, the design of the underground ramp has created obstacles to a diagonal connection between Liberty Plaza and the new plaza envisioned next to Library Lane. We will need a creative designer to lift pedestrians over the traffic going in and out of the ramp. Done right, this bridge could become an attraction, an iconic destination with a role in outdoor performances. I like the Mayor's vision of a string of public plazas extending through the downtown, leading pedestrians from the Diag westward to connect with the Allen Creek Greenway. Retail shops along the way, plantings, sculptures, benches, children's play structures, these could transform the dull William Street corridor into a lively one, supporting and enhancing whatever new construction may be proposed there. Perhaps the new buildings could incorporate arcades, making the route attractive in winter as well as spring, summer, and fall.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:09 p.m.

"In order to thrive, downtowns need more residents"! Thank You Mayor Hieftje for your keen insight. If you want affordable downtown housing move to Ypsilanti, they want and need you.


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 3:58 a.m.

you have it good...sound like Ann Arbor affordable for you.


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 3:52 a.m.

more residents then less crime per cap. ..your seeing the mayors logic?

Judy Freedman

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

If you want people to live downtown which I believe is necessary for a vibrant city, a grocery store is definitely a necessity. When you want downtown living you don't want to get into your car for everything. Isn't that the point. I live a mile and a half from downtown and walk there most of the time.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

Previous Article: "Liberty Plaza: City leaders look for ways to end crime, vagrancy issues at park" Without having solved the issues at this park the city would turn the Patio Lot into another area that I would avoid passing. Two very distinct things about Ann Arbor: I love the convenience of the Patio Lot and I hate the disturbing environment of Liberty Plaza.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

"With rents ranging from $700 to $4,300/month and the average residential unit at $264/square foot... " I understand the rent cost per month, but what is $264/sq ft? Cost to build or purchase a residence?


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 1:34 p.m.

So now there are ~4000 residents "downtown", which is like 4% of the city population. Is it just me, or do we seem to spend an inordinate amount of effort and probably money worrying about what amounts to a quite small portion of the populace?

Wolf's Bane

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

Critical mass, what an astute observation! How about snarled traffic? Lower quality of life? How bout total lack of Police presence and shrinking fire protection and coverage? How about rampant burglaries throughout our city? Thugs busting up folks like Jean-Claude Soloman and the homeless pestering people for money. Critical mass, you gotta be joking!!


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 3:51 a.m.

city going burn like the great Chicago then copone can rebuild :)

mike gatti

Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 1:31 a.m.

Population downtown should and could grow. If that happens traffic will increase and people will need to rethink how they travel in and around town. Also the more residents downtown more likely that actual necessary businesses will relocate there (grocery store, dept. store, etc.) Maybe it will happen. Who knows maybe in a hundred years A2 will be the commercial hub of Michigan.

Wolf's Bane

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 10:09 p.m.

Ron, based on the intellectual, financial, and educational stockpile that is Ann Arbor, WE SHOULD BE DOING A LOT BETTER! This is a great city with some real problems and we need to resolve them!

Ron Granger

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Obviously ann arbor is the next worst thing to detroit. Not.

Ron Granger

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

Excellent interview, Ryan.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 12:54 p.m.

Parking in downtown Ann Arbor is already a disaster. I don't live downtown but used to visit often. Now I rarely go downtown as it's just too much hassle and expensive. Building more places for people to live and thereby removing parking will only make things much, much worse. Ann Arbor has a serious parking problem that needs to be solved or the only people downtown will be those that live there


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

What? Every single time we head into ann arbor, we find parking within 5-10 minutes on the most crowded of nights. It's really, really REALLY easy to park in Ann Arbor.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.

Nobody goes downtown anymore. It's too crowded.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

The structure comment is semi-reasonable, bur bikes aren't an option unless you're really close, and mass transit doesn't have great coverage here.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

I just have to laugh at replies like these. You want hassle and expense, go to a place like Chicago or New York. I'm downtown two, three, four times a week, and never have a problem with parking.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

I'm sorry you have such trouble - I visit monthly if not more often, and never have a problem. The first few months I lived in the region I admit it was a challenge, but it was because I was new. It just takes time to get used to it. You do have to be careful as there are more and more bikes and a lot of walkers - but welcome to a successful downtown. Talk to Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Youngstown, Saginaw, etc about downtowns and look at how theirs are dead come 6pm.

Jaime Magiera

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

What Ron said. Also, consider mass transit or a bike.

Ron Granger

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

Have you tried parking in a structure?


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

Do homeless people count as "living downtown"?


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

And how many are students?

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

Thanks for an excellent article, Ryan. You are doing a great service in highlighting issues in our community. There is a lot to consider here.

Chase Ingersoll

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

Ann Arbors "problems" are problems that other cities wish they had.


Mon, Oct 1, 2012 : 3:49 a.m.

like poverty and homeless and crime rate that's not too high but not too low.. could use work. a little polishing up on citys edges ;)

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

Kudos to @Ryan Stanton for an excellent, detailed and wide ranging interview with our Mayor.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 11:55 a.m.

" So they may say that's fine that a train station go here, but we'll have to mitigate and create a new park somewhere else..." "They"? The law is very clear on this and apparently the Mayor tried to 'dodge' the issue with talk of leasing. Will there be a VOTE of the people if parkland is used for ANYTHING else such as a train station? If not, why?

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 11:53 a.m.

"The Library Lot has always been planned to have a park plaza there. There was no big push for a conference center or anything like that." Wow--this statement was not challenged by the reporter? Why not? "But no one has taken their eye off the affordable housing ball." "I was at a neighborhood meeting last year in North Burns Park..." Another one: Since you now live in Burns Park, a rather affluent locations, what do you say to your critics that your focus as Mayor has been primarily on your own neighborhood and downtown at the expense of the rest of the City? And of course, one more: Mr. Mayor, from the last two Council elections and primary, several of your allies have gone down to defeat championing several of the ideas you've pushed. Do you think this is a rejection and if so, do you plan to turn it into a learning moment. Please explain. This wasn't challenged either? "Glen Ann is a tough one because we had the development proposed that didn't happen. I thought it was a great idea." And no follow up for this one like: "Eh, Mr. Mayor, didn't the City actually go to court to prevent this development and lost, and the delay ended up killing it when the recession hit? Can you explain what you mean by 'great idea' when the City tried to stop it?" "The city is going to continue to battle these issues. I think if you went back to the 1800s, Ann Arbor was a very swampy place." No question like: "Mr. Mayor, thank for your historical note but we're in 2012. New development needs to be reviewed closely of course, but what about the major issue of flooding in current neighborhoods. Do you REALLY believe global warming is causing flooding of homes near West Park? What do you intend to do about this issue for current homeowners (and taxpayers)?


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

Alan, Great questions!!! I'm sure if he dared to answer them, the answers would be so twisted, they would not be true or honest!! And Ms Brier has stated numerous times that "The public (you and I) are not smart enough to know what is best for us, so she/they have to make the decisions and tell us what we can and can't do!!!!


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

I liked this one: "but when you get the major storm events, that water wants to go back to its old pathways" Yeah, it hard to break the old habits of water, always wanting to run downhill and all.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 11:02 a.m.

A textbook perfect example of why the Mayor and others in power have nothing to fear from reporting.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 9:52 p.m.

Yup... they just luuuuvvv Putzer down at A2.bomb - "OOOOhhhh!!! Yur Highness, tell me of yur visions for the Kingdom!!" Putzer's visions are more like bad dreams.